One hundred intimate portraits of east Londoners – aged between one and 100 – celebrate the extraordinary lives lived by ordinary people
Hundreds of photographs. Four years of progress. Three separate lockdowns. All for one, single, spirit-lifting, hope-giving celebration of life in all its fullness, shapes and form.
Kindness, loss, friendship, hurt, joy, resilience: Jenny Lewis, a photographer based in Hackney has captured the full gamut of human emotions and life’s many experiences in her latest project.
Her idea was simple: to photograph one hundred individuals between one and one hundred. Apart from this, the only other condition of her project was that the people she captured lived in the same East London borough as her.
Her vision was more about serendipity than science. Her project started with subjects sent by her friends, while other the Mayor of Hackney helped her find. But for most, Lewis just bumped into them while out and about.
As she noted: “It’s incredible how generous people are with their time and their stories. I’d come back from shoots feeling I’d had a shot of adrenaline.”
Her colourful is testimony to the diversity Hackney captured within her own borough: Every race, colour, gender and, of course, age, is on show. But her project is also a reflection of her own artistic eye, which, testified by her photographs, draws out uniqueness from the ordinary.
“Ordinary”, of course, being a misnomer. One of the projects takeaways is a reminder that nobody is ordinary, there is no typical “Hackney” resident, like there is no typical personal anywhere in the world. We all have something special that makes us, well, us. Everyone is wondrously, welcomingly, wantonly different, Lewis notes.
Our life journeys are also anything but “linear”, she says: “We don’t just keep turning the page, getting slightly older and wiser and moving towards the end point. It’s, well, quite tumultuous. There is no: ‘do it this way and that will happen’. Life is different for everyone.”
The brief biographies that accompany each image prove Lewis is a gifted listener as well as photographer. Listen with interest and care, and people open up, Lewis advised. The pensioner who took up skydiving; the 30-something mother who was diagnosed with bowel cancer while pregnant; the centenarian former gangster’s moll.
It is easy to “sort of forget” how remarkable people are, Lewis observes ruefully: “They are all just my neighbours – it shows you don’t need to look very far to be inspired by people.”
For the next five years, prints of the one hundred separate images will be exhibited on the wall of the three-storey high atrium of The Britannia Leisure Centre in Hackney’s Shoreditch Park. As Lewis notes: “Everyone is there.”
One Hundred Years: Portraits of a community aged 0–100 is published by Hoxton Mini Press
Photography by Jenny Lewis